Local food and drink in the Dorset AONB

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Dorset, Harriet O'Brien picks out a selection of restaurants, cafés and markets to find the best local food and drink in this glorious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in southern England.

Dorset Food & Drink was launched in 2013 to bring together everyone proud to be growing, making, selling, serving, supporting and buying Dorset food and drink. From Dorset-reared beef to crab, lobster and mussels collected along the coast, to creamy local cheeses, and breweries and vineyards scattered throughout the AONB – if sampling local flavours is high on your holiday to-do list, Dorset won't disappoint.

The AONB has a thriving café culture and you won't be short of places to wind down in after a day roaming around the coast or countryside, from local tea shops to Michelin-starred restaurants. And when tired limbs yearn for something a little stronger, one of these cosy pubs should be just the thing.

Hix Oyster and Fish House

When you’ve got the best, keep things simple: that’s very much the concept behind this celebration of fish. Owned and run by restaurateur Mark Hix, this operation is housed in a sleekly decorated shed with superb views over the famous Cobb of Lyme Regis. It serves mouth-tinglingly fresh Brown Sea Island and Portland Pearl oysters as well as the likes of just-caught pollock and sprats. Dorset-born Hix (his grandfather was the mayor of Bridport) is in the kitchen here most weekends - down from his other enterprises in London - and can sometimes be spotted in his boat fishing for bass and mackerel in the bay. hixoysterandfishhouse.co.uk

The Three Horseshoes

Tucked into the deep folds of western Dorset, Powerstock is a picturesque village close to the Iron Age fort at Eggardon Hill and next to Powerstock Common - part of Dorset Wildlife Reserve. Its robust-looking pub was built in 1906 and offers a lovely terrace with sweeping views, live music on many evenings and, best of all, exceptional food. Proprietor Karl Bashford is a talented chef and makes inspired use of local ingredients: starters might include West Bay scallops with sea cabbage and cider apple, while mains could feature roast fillet of cod with cod cheek scampi. Most of the herbs and veg come from the pub’s ever-expanding vegetable garden. threeshoesdorset.co.uk

The Acorn Inn

This mellow stone coaching inn is straight out of Thomas Hardy. It’s mentioned, as The Sow-and-Acorn, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, meantime its picturesque setting of Evershot village is Hardy’s Evershead. In the seminal story Tess, in fact, avoids stopping here – and that would be a great shame today, for the food is a treat. The menu features the likes of Mediterranean fish stew with local mussels as well as such slow-cooked delights such as braised pork belly with cider. They pride themselves on sustainability and using local produce here. And, apart from the dining room, they manage to keep a real pub atmosphere too, with a proper old skittles alley and an obvious enthusiasm for regional ales. acorn-inn.co.uk

The Bull Hotel

You’re right in the heart of arty, foodie Bridport at this Georgian coaching inn with chic flourishes. From its deep-blue exterior to its 19 super-stylish bedrooms, The Bull is very much a modern boutique establishment. But don’t let the good looks deflect too much attention from the food factor – which is top class. In the informal dining room chef George Marsh serves great bistro dishes very much based on local produce, such as moules frites, Lyme Bay scallops and West Country steaks. All the bread is freshly baked, and the tea-time scones, too. On a Friday night The Bull’s Venner Bar becomes a haven of gourmet wonder, serving wonderful little canapés with drinks. thebullhotel.co.uk

The Stable

In 2009 the old stable block of Bridport’s Bull hotel was transformed into a cider house and gourmet pizza outfit. It’s a tremendously convivial place, offering a host of perries and ciders – try Orchard Pig Explorer or Lyme Bay Scrumpy – along with ambrosial pizzas such as Lamb Roast (with local lamb, mint and Ford Farm goat cheddar) and Bucky Doo (with herb roast potatoes and local blue cheese). The Stable has proved such a success that other outlets (with the same name) have since opened in Weymouth, Poole, Bristol, Bath and Fistral Beach in Cornwall. stablepizza.com

Sienna

This deceptively modest looking little place on Dorchester’s high street is the country’s smallest Michelin-star restaurant. The zeal of owners Russell and Elena Brown is palpable – he’s in the kitchen, she’s front of house – and they take enormous pride and pleasure in sourcing their ingredients from the best possible outlets: fish and shellfish from Samways Fish Merchants in Bridport; coffee supplied by Café Rico in Weymouth; beef and veal from farm-assured Jurassic Coast Meats at Winfrith Newburgh. Expect the likes of pan-fried brill with squid and chorizo, and West Country venison saddle with celeriac and pear, or opt for the exquisite seven-course tasting menu for dinner. siennarestaurant.co.uk

The Half Moon

Set in a small village between Bridport and Beaminster, the Half Moon looks from the outside like a traditional thatched pub; indeed inside it oozes atmosphere with log fires and old oak beams. A blackboard by the bar gives the first indication of quite what an epicurean enterprise this is, with a long list of all the local suppliers used, from Palmers Brewery in Bridport to Woodford Leaves in Dorchester. Owner and chef Dan Clarke takes evident delight in creating dishes that reflect the very best of the season, so you might find venison Wellington on the menu, or just-caught hake. thehalfmoonmelplash.com

Durnovaria Wine Bar

Since it opened towards the end of 2013, Durnovaria has become a lively community hub for Dorchester (and indeed it takes its name from the Roman title for the town). Housed in an iconic, Victorian redbrick building that was once a post office, it is an all-encompassing space staging regular events that promote local artists and musicians. It is both a café and a wine bar serving charcuterie from Capreolus smokehouse in Rampisham; cheeses from Ford Farm on the Ashley Chase Estate; pies - such as rabbit, gin and lemon - from Bridport Gourmet Pies; and glorious Dorset apple cake. durnovariabar.co.uk

Riverside Restaurant

Located just above the River Brit in Bridport’s West Bay, the Riverside is a Dorset institution with a terrific reputation and a passionate commitment to sustainability. Arthur and Janet Watson started developing it from a small café in the mid 60s, and they continue to own and oversee it today. It’s still something of a no-frills place, with wooden tables and cheerful blue-and-white décor - and with the emphasis very much on the menu. Of course what’s on offer depends almost entirely on market availability and local landings. Expect the likes of pan-fried turbot fillet with cumin-fried potatoes and roasted sea bass with garlic mash. thefishrestaurant-westbay.co.uk

The Potting Shed, Poundbury

Set in Dorchester’s evolving extension of Poundbury, next to the Poundbury Garden Centre, The Potting Shed is a country-chic deli and café with upcycled furniture and shelves made from reclaimed wood and packing boxes. It’s a sister operation to enormously successful Olives et Al in Sturminster Newton, which was devised by Giles and Annie Henschel after they’d spent a year travelling around Mediterranean Europe. Olives and olive oil of course feature large here, but so does local produce from cheese to apple cake. Sit inside or out and tuck into a Deli Grazing Board with Dorset Blue Vinny cheese, olives, dolmades and just-made bread, or try a Potting Shed pie with locally grown salad. olivesetal.co.uk

Downhouse Farm Café

Cream teas and great comfort-food lunches are served at this bucolic farm café. And you’ll take in terrific views, too. Downhouse Farm is in the National Trust’s Golden Cap Estate, and its garden café is set high over Lyme Bay. Walk the coastal path between Seatown and Eype and you’ll see signs to the farm – it’s well worth the slight diversion. You tap into a tremendous zeal for organics and local produce here: the vegetables and herbs are from the kitchen garden; the meat (apart from chicken) is from the farm; the cheese and clotted cream are from nearby Hangers Diary. downhousefarm.org

Hive Beach Café

It began life years ago as a simple shed on the shore, it’s grown and grown to become a landmark on Burton Bradstock’s beach, yet Hive Beach Café remains wonderfully true to its original concept of serving fresh, sustainably caught fish, often brought in straight off the beach. And there’s plenty more, too, from wonderful scones to great cakes and even dog biscuits (local dog walkers make a beeline here after morning excursions). This is a breakfast and lunch place, serving meals outdoors all year long, but with canvas awning offering cover. You take in the sea scape of the National Trust beach while you have coffee, or lunch on anything from just-caught mackerel to Portland oysters. hivebeachcafe.co.uk

The Salt Pig

In the heart of handsome little Wareham, this operation is epicurean Dorset through and through. In 2009 James Warren started The Salt Pig as a deli devoted to Dorset. He has since added a fishmonger section, an off licence and a brilliant café. It’s still a tiny, charmingly intimate outfit, with café five tables at the front and a few more tucked into the drinks section at back. There’s a great range of bread from Long Crichel Bakery, there are lavish cakes, and while the lunchtime menu changes daily it usually includes starters of Dorset charcuterie. Mains might include local venison and whole baked plaice, just-in of course. thesaltpig.co.uk

Gold Hill Organic Farm

This vegetable farm and shop in northern Dorset is very much a hub for local producers. Artists too. Its courtyard is home to the studios of glassblower Emsie Sharp and painter Rachel Sargent while cheesemaker James McCall creates James’s Cheeses here. The shop is stocked with Ajar jams, Christine’s Puddings, Stoate’s flour and more as well as Gold Hill’s veg - and visitors are welcome to tour the farm beyond. A stylish café adjoins the shop and offers soups, cakes and salads made mainly from Gold Hill’s own produce. It doubles as a craft shop and the displays of glass and ceramics add to its appealing atmosphere. Open Thursdays to Saturdays until 4pm and Sundays until 2pm. goldhillorganicfarm.com

Capreolus Fine Foods

In just three years, David Richards’s passion for smoking meat had turned from a casual hobby into an award-winning smokehouse business. From humble beginnings in their farmhouse kitchen in Dorchester, this husband and wife enterprise now supplies restaurants, delis and eateries with their delicious products, which range from sausage, chorizo and salami to venison, duck and beef, all of which are smoked using age-old traditional smoking techniques. They’ve got armfuls of awards for their products, including the prestigious Taste of Dorset Innovation Award 2011. capreolusfinefoods.co.uk

Dorset Shellfish

“From our pots to your plate”, reads their slogan, which just about sums this Weymouth-based business up. Graham and son catch crab and bass from their boats Nil Desperandum and Marauder, ensuring that anything caught that’s not large enough is returned to the sea. Their freshly dressed crab, crab pates and soups, which you can pick up at various farmers’ markets, food festivals and shows which are dotted around the region. dorset-shellfish.co.uk

Washingpool Farm Shop

Just outside Bridport, this 80-acre farm is a thriving enterprise with produce ranging from veg to Ruby Red beef cattle and free-range pigs. The much applauded farm shop here was established a decade ago and, quite apart from stocking the farm’s own produce, has been a pioneer in selling and promoting local foods: this is the go-to shop for a great range of the region’s best ingredients. There are a host of Dorset cheeses; there are Saison salts from the very local little cottage industry on the doorstep; there are Dorset Knobs and other biscuit products from Moores; and there’s a wonderful section of quail, duck, goose and hen eggs. washingpool.co.uk

The Game Larder

The Game Larder buys from 28 Dorset shoots, processes the meat – plucking, butchering, packaging – and then supplies it to restaurants, retailers or direct to the public. It’s proved so successful that in addition to its core range of seasonal pheasant, partridge, rabbit, pigeon and venison the company has added sausages, burgers, quails eggs and also beef, lamb and pork from (very) selected local Dorset farms. Buy direct from the company’s base, Crab Farm, and from sister company The Dorset Larder in Blandford. The Game Larder also supplies farm shops, independent butchers, pubs and restaurants across the county. thedorsetgamelarder.co.uk

Bride Valley Farm Shop

There’s a great array of beef, pork and charcuterie as well as local chutneys, pickles, honey, jams, veg, and dairy products at this foodie trove in the centre of charming Abbotsbury. It is the retail arm of Longlands Farm near Dorchester, which is home to Dorset Longhorn cattle. These docile creatures with fearsome looking headgear graze a great swathe of rolling chalkland that is managed for conservation and so free of herbicides, adding to the renowned quality of the meat produced. Longlands Farm also cures the bacon and ham from the neighbouring pig farm and this is available in the shop. www.dorsetlonghorn.co.uk

Felicity’s Farm Shop

In 2010 Felicity Perkin created this large store out of a former garage, and she swiftly acquired a keen customer base. There’s a wonderfully eclectic range here, from lots of seasonal fruit and veg supplied by local growers in Marshwood Vale to cheddar from Truckles of West Dorset, Mighty Hop beers from Lyme Regis, and beef from Manor Court Farm near Bridport. You’ll also find a range of locally produced gifts, gardening gear and bird food as well as teas, coffees, freshly made bread and a daily hotpot you can consume at trestle tables outside, taking in views across to the Golden Cap. felicitysfarmshop.co.uk


For information on characterful places to stay, nearby visitor attractions and activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Dorset


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